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Tennessee mosque could open by Friday, board member says

From George Howell, CNN
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tennessee mosque could open by Friday
  • The building passed its final inspection on Tuesday, a board member says
  • The project has been delayed by a lawsuit and targeted by vandals

Programming note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over a mosque in the heart of the Bible Belt. "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" airs Saturday August 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.

(CNN) -- Leaders of a Murfreesboro, Tennessee, mosque whose construction has been beset by controversy hope to hold their first prayer services in the new center on Friday, a board member said Tuesday.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro passed its final building inspection on Friday, board member Saleh Sbenaty said.

Sbenaty said paperwork still must be filed with Rutherford County officials to receive a temporary occupancy permit. He expected that to happen Tuesday afternoon.

The approval would allow the mosque to open before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends August 18.

Opponents of the mosque filed a lawsuit in 2010 after planning commissioners approved a proposal to expand the facility. They argued the county had failed to follow public notice requirements leading up to the approval.

The mosque opponents argued the facility posed a "risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of Sharia law" and that planning commissioners violated their due process rights.

In May, a county judge overturned approvals for the plan, saying the county had violated state law by not providing proper notice.

In July, the U.S. Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed separate lawsuits, arguing that Rutherford County officials violated federal laws when they denied requests for a final inspection and certificate of occupancy for the mosque.

The center's lawsuit argued that it was ordered to meet "a heightened standard of notice in the zoning process" because of objections by some Murfreesboro residents, a standard no other religious institution has been asked to meet.

U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell issued a temporary restraining order last month ordering county officials to provide the final building inspection.

In addition to the legal fight, the construction site has been vandalized several times, including by an arson attack in 2010, and federal authorities have charged a Texas man with calling in a bomb threat to the center before last year's anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

"Not welcome" was spray-painted by vandals on a sign announcing the construction of the project.

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